‘Subsidy packages for flood-hit farmers will be announced by Wednesday’

The recent floods and landslides triggered by heavy monsoon rains in Tarai districts have largely affected the agriculture sector of the country. A recent report unveiled by the Ministry of Agricultural Development shows that the monsoon calamity this year has already swept away planted crops worth more than eight billion rupees. Moreover, actual loss that the agriculture industry has incurred due to the recent floods in the low-lying regions of the country is expected to be far more than eight billion rupees, as the government is yet to take into account the loss details minutely from across all the affected districts. Sujan Dhungana of The Himalayan Times spoke to MoAD Secretary Suroj Pokhrel to know more about effects of the recent floods and the future plans of the government.

What is the exact loss that the country’s agricultural sector had to incur due to the recent floods in different districts in the Tarai?

As announced by the government a few days ago, a little more than Rs eight billion worth of agricultural crops and fishes have been swept away in different districts in the Tarai by the recent floods. However, the loss amount is expected to be higher as we are still collecting the statistics of agricultural loss through our local and regional offices. We will soon prepare a Post Disaster Needs Assessment report of the recent floods in the agriculture industry of the country. The recent disaster has mostly affected paddy fields and its plantation in the Tarai districts. Our preliminary study shows that almost 78,515 hectares of agricultural land has been directly affected by the floods. The recent floods directly affected nearly 47,226 hectares of paddy farmlands. As the water level in the paddy farmlands is abating, we are expecting paddy production in farmlands where the water level has gone up to drop by only 15 to 20 per cent this year. Meanwhile, we have been encouraging farmers to replant paddy where possible and use different hybrid seeds given by the government which can mature faster. This will ensure that the paddy output this year is not affected hugely. The country had a record production of paddy last year amounting to 5.23 million metric tonnes and we had projected 5.4 million metric tonnes of paddy in the ongoing fiscal year as the monsoon started as expected this year. We are optimistic that the paddy production will not fall by more than 20 per cent of the projected production for this year and will hover around the production rate of the previous fiscal year. Similarly, the recent floods have also affected vegetable farmland and fisheries largely in the Tarai. Our preliminary study shows that the recent floods affected vegetables planted on 16,474 hectares of land amounting to a loss of over Rs 2.96 billion. The floods have also swept away more than 60 per cent of fisheries in the 31 affected districts. As per the initial report of the government, 1,334 hectares of land in the Tarai where fishery was being done has been affected by the floods.

What impact will the recent floods have on the overall agricultural output of the country this year?

It will certainly have an impact on the agricultural production this year. As the floods have hampered cultivation of paddy, vegetables, maize, groundnuts, pulses, millet and oil seeds, production of these crops will be affected to some extent. However, I already said that we are optimistic that the water in the farmlands will soon recede and the crops will not be affected much. However, we are still uncertain about the actual production loss that the country will have to bear because of the recent floods and landslides. Among others, production of paddy, vegetables and fishes will come down slightly and it might also hit their price in the days to come.

Will not the fall in agricultural production this year affect supply of food in the domestic market in the coming days?

I already mentioned that the agricultural production will not fall adversely despite the calamity as a majority of standing crops like paddy and maize can still grow properly after the water is cleared from the farmlands. Even if agricultural production is hit severely, the government will apply all its efforts and mechanisms to make sure that there is an effective supply of food products in the domestic market.

How does the government plan to support farmers who have been affected by the floods and landslides?

The Ministry of Agricultural Development (MoAD) is currently developing an immediate relief package targeting flood affected farmers of the Tarai. Under this package, we will distribute seeds, fertilisers and agricultural equipment, among others at a subsidised rate. We are also working to assure that affected farmers get loan facilities easily and at low interest rates. Similarly, we are also planning to distribute fishlings free of cost to farmers whose fisheries have been swept away by the floods and we will also assist farmers to reconstruct their damaged ponds. We will announce a comprehensive package for affected farmers in the Tarai by Wednesday. Similarly, the government will also announce subsidy packages for affected farmers for winter crop production.

The contribution of the agriculture sector in national gross domestic product has been constantly declining for the past few years. Why is it so?

Though it is true that the stake of agriculture in GDP is declining, the overall agricultural production in the country has been increasing in the last few years. We should understand that the falling contribution of agriculture sector in GDP does not mean that the agriculture industry is weakening. What we have to realise is that contribution of the agriculture sector in national GDP falls when the growth rate of other sectors is comparatively higher. The stake of agriculture in GDP is directly related to the growth of other sectors. Similarly, the size of the country’s GDP structure too is increasing every year. We should note that Nepal recorded an all-time high production of paddy in the last fiscal year. Similarly, production of other food grains has also been increasing annually.

The government recently issued a directive prohibiting plotting of arable land for commercial and residential construction. How will this measure benefit the agriculture sector?

We welcome the decision of the government to prohibit plotting of arable land for commercial and residential construction. In fact, plotting of agricultural land has been on the rise in recent years, which is a threat to the agriculture industry. Haphazard plotting has been reducing the size of arable land in the country, which will affect agriculture output in the country. With such directive from the government, we believe that the size of arable land across the country will be maintained and the country’s agriculture production rate will increase.